Well, I was almost right today... I had McEwen in second behind Boonen, but McEwen won the stage and Boonen faded to third. Hushovd took a close second to sandwich between my picks for the day's stage. This mean- gulp- that BK won today's pick-a-thon. She came up with some squirrelly ass rules that first person to pick gets their picks to themselves and the second person to pick has to pick totally different riders. Weak... but I'm a big boy and a good sport, so I'm not taking my toys and going home mad. Since I "lost" today, I get to have first pick for tomorrow. Great... that means I'm picking Boonen to win (finally, I hope) and McEwen to take second. Boonen will want the win, since it is in Belgium and he's the King of Sport in Belgium. McEwen lives very near the finish in Ghent and rides for a Belgian team, so he's going to be just as motivated as Tom... but I'm gonna give the edge to a super-motivated Boonen. (Possible spoiler on the day to Hushovd.)
Hats off today, to McEwen though. In the closing stages of the race, 21km from the finish, McEwen was caught in a pile-up of riders and had to rely heavily on a few teammates to help him regain contact with the race. At the front, Lampre-Fondital and Quickstep were drilling it for the finish line and to catch the remaining riders of a long break that contained David Millar (who managed to gain enough time bonuses to move up to third overall and enough points to become the race's first KOM- bravo Dave). The fast moving field wasn't quite fast enoug hto drop McEwen altogether and he managed to catch back on with 5km to go, after an all out chase that would have left most riders too thrashed to be able to even consider contesting the sprint. But, with his usual uncanny sense of timing and bike handling, McEwen made it to the front and blasted out of the field with 150m to go. Robbie launched like a missile and quickly put 2 bike lengths between him and the rest of the flailing field. Seriously, nobody in today's peloton can match his speed in a short sprint. In a long drag race with either Hushovd or Boonen, Robbie might have a disadvantage, but at 200m or less, he's simply unbeatable.
David Millar rode a brave race today, getting out early by himself and then working with a few other riders who decided to get some TV time. No doubt, all of England would have been rooting for David today. Short of getting the win today, slipping into the Polka Dot jersey of the KOM and third place overall was decent consolation.
Now the Tour returns to the European continent for a few hours in France before finishing in the city of Ghent, Belgium. Robbie will be very motivated to take a second stage, as his European home is very near Ghent. Boonen, the Golden Boy of Belgium, will be the most motivated rider in the field though and will have his team working its spandex-clad asses off to get him to the line. McEwen's fall has given him reason to worry about his chances for the rest of the Tour and may prevent him from the win tomorrow. If there's a rider in this race who can ride with pain, it's Robbie, but a wrist injury is a real problem for a sprinter. Having control of your bike is of paramount importance and Robbie is world famous for his control skills. With that in mind, I'm afraid to say that Boonen would have the edge on the stage tomorrow.
The roll into Ghent is largely board flat with zero rated climbs, so Millar won't have to defend his maillot pois. The final run in to the finish is relatively tame... but this is the Tour and nerves will be stretched thin and all of Belgium will be on hand to see if Boonen can grab the stage win. It should be an exciting finish and well worth watching.
Until tomorrow! A bientot.